Sacramento’s appetite for mobile food was fueled three years ago with the debut of SactoMoFo, a festival that rounds up popular food trucks from Northern California. The event has continually drawn thousands in search of mobile munchies who are willing to brave epic lines, while a series of weekly SactoMoFo events feeds Sacramento’s suburbs and business parks.
Paul Somerhausen, director of SactoMoFo, is bracing for the mobile food masses as the next event approaches on Saturday at Sixth and W streets. We caught up with Somerhausen at a mobile food round-up near Cal Expo. We wanted his take on the current food truck scene and where it all might be headed. Here’s what he had to say.
How much has the local food truck scene evolved over the past three years?
Food trucks were sort of a strange, exotic novelty but something clicked in the last six to eight months. I think we have a critical volume of trucks now that we can finally appeal to most appetites. You’re seeing a lot more acceptance, particularly by families and children. That’s unique to Sacramento. In the bigger markets, they cater more towards the hipsters and young professionals. Here, because of our more horizontal layout of the city, we’ve had to focus a lot on the suburbs.
What kinds of food truck items are locals gravitating toward the most?
I always thought we had to model it after the big cities and come up with the crazy foods and the really foodie-type attractions. I quickly realized that’s not what Sacramento is in to. Sacramento is cool with getting adventurous with existing, familiar food types. If you want to get crazy with grilled cheese, that’s cool. If you want to get cute with burgers, that works. But if you get too exotic, then it becomes harder to connect.
Is there enough business to go around with all the local food trucks, or is there still room to grow?
I believe the food truck market is only getting started here. With 30-something trucks, there’s still a lot of room for growth and a lot of room for perfecting concepts. I don’t see any reason why someone that has a clear business plan and a clear budget couldn’t be successful here. The challenge for food truck owners is, unlike a brick-and-mortar restaurant where people come to you, here you have to go find the business. Sacramento does offer one advantage. Since it’s such a horizontal city, there’s a lot of business parks and state buildings that don’t have a variety of food options. The opportunities are there, but finding those opportunities is the hardest part.
How are the current relations between food truck operators and restaurateurs?
(We’ve shown) the restaurants that we’re not out for blood. Food trucks are a complement to the food scene, not a direct competition. Every study I’ve read shows the choice isn’t between a restaurant and a food truck. It’s between fast food and food trucks.
What do you hope the local food truck culture will look like in five years?
We’re already a mature market with a wide variety of successful options. We’re celebrating that we’re a city of food, and food trucks are part of that process. They’re incubators for future restaurants. Food trucks have demonstrated they have a lasting ability. They add to the local economy in the form of jobs. We should help that. Food trucks lead to restaurants. Restaurants lead to more jobs, more economic development and a more vibrant city. If we’re really going to embrace this food thing, let’s do it. But let’s do it wholehearted and give food trucks an opportunity to be legal, reasonably regulated and profitable.